The word 'space' literally means 'emptiness' or 'expanse'. When did the term begin to be used to the emptiness between planets/stars/galaxies?

  • 1
    – Stuart F
    Aug 18 '21 at 8:53
  • 1
    I would suggest that 'space', used astronomically, means that which contains the items in the universe rather than that which separates them. Many theories suggest, and it is logical to accept the general hypothesis, that 'space' (the astronomical term) is a construct, not a vacancy and is the medium which communicates light, rather than the emptiness through which it travels.
    – Nigel J
    Aug 18 '21 at 15:35

From 1582:

Consider the huge substance of the earth, so heauie and great as it is: How could it so stand stably in the space as it doth, if GODS goodnesse reserued it not so for vs to trauell on?

That citation is from The Second Book of Homilies, sermon 17 (text) (Wikipedia). It is the oldest citation in the OED under the eighth sense:

8. The expanse in which celestial objects are situated; the physical universe (excluding celestial objects) beyond the earth's atmosphere, consisting of near vacuum with small amounts of gas and dust. Frequently with modifying word.

If you look through the text of the sermons in The Second Book, you'll see that space usually refers to time, as in this quote from the 7th sermon:

there fell no rain vpon the earth for the space of three yeares

In fact, the first branch of the OED's definitions, and the earliest citations contained therein, refer to "space" meaning time, although the word had also been used to mean physical distance as early as circa 1350.

Outer space doesn't come until much later, first appearing in 1842 in Emmeline Charlotte E . Stuart Wortley's poem The Maiden of Moscow:

All Earth in madness moved,—o'erthrown, To outer space—driven—racked—undone!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.